Mindfulness pedagogy series aims for balance in unsteady time

Instructors are busy putting final touches on their courses in preparation for the fall semester, and many are looking to add something not found in a textbook or PowerPoint slide.

With the stress and demands of the coronavirus pandemic, mindfulness in the classroom and through virtual instruction is finding its way into more plans. Mindfulness -- the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of awareness -- is beneficial for instructors and students.

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) has responded by offering a mindfulness and contemplative pedagogy series. The three-part series is designed to help instructors and students incorporate deepened awareness, concentration and insight into their daily lives.

"There was a huge need to help instructors and students dealing with the challenges presented by COVID-19 by encouraging student engagement and community connection," CELT program coordinator Karen Couves said.

Making the connection

The series begins Tuesday, Aug. 11, with a live webinar, “Explore the Benefits of Mindfulness in Online Learning.” Through a video, a student will share what she gained from having her instructor incorporate mindfulness techniques. Carrie Giese, prevention and health promotion coordinator in student wellness, will discuss the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices to optimize the learning environment.

An online panel featuring mindful and contemplative pedagogy practitioners is set for Sept. 9. Food science and human nutrition associate professor Christina Campbell, English associate teaching professor Brenna Dixon, and food science and human nutrition clinical professor Janet Johnson will talk about the benefits of the practices they incorporate. 

On Oct. 16, the "'You Already Are:' Mindfulness in Different Disciplines” workshop will show how mindfulness can be present across every discipline. Dixon and psychology teaching professor Karen Scheel will lead the discussion.

"It is about building community and connection using mindfulness for everyone on campus," Couves said.

Building to a series

CELT began mindfulness programming in February, and it took hold in April when Couves and fellow program coordinator Karen Bovenmyer conducted a workshop on mindfulness in an online environment. Another session in July saw CELT partner with student wellness to see how students were impacted when instructors used mindfulness techniques in their classes.

"We were able to hear student voices and what they thought," Couves said. "We showcased a variety of exercises that could be done beyond just breathing exercises and breathing meditations."

"A lot of faculty were already doing mindfulness techniques in their classrooms that they didn't realize," Bovenmyer said. "Things like centering each class around a specific theme question to think about throughout that entire class." 

Studies find that mindfulness can enhance focus and creativity, provide improved stress management and coping skills, and lead to a better work/life balance.

More possibilities

CELT added a webpage offering suggestions and other resources of information about mindful and contemplative pedagogy.

The series will extend into spring semester with the opportunity to grow as topics and needs arise, Couves said.

"I think people are looking for ways to bring balance to their lives and how to be more at peace by taking a moment for themselves," Couves said. "Faculty, staff, undergraduates and graduate students can all benefit from this."